When noted American artist Hans Fischer died in December 2019, family and friends instantly felt that a bright shining light had been extinguished. But two years later, they are finding ways to reignite that light and keep it shining through the paintings they have managed to curate—many of which were unfinished but came with detailed instruction on his plans for completion.
Always an Artist
Even as a three-year-old living in his birthplace in Holland, Hans (Johan) knew he was an artist. That was reinforced by his grandmother who refused to paint over the train Hans decided to draw on her wall. The family relocated to Harrison, New York when Hans was four, but after high school Hans was back in Holland again, this time to attend Akademie voor Kunst in Eindhoven. He then went on to receive a BS in industrial design from the University of Bridgeport. But his painting dreams were put on hold in the sixties when he served in the National Guard and went to work at Perkin Elmer in Wilton. That is where he met his wife of forty-nine years, Francine. They moved to Ridgefield where Hans designed a contemporary house on the street where Francine grew up and where he lived until his death.
By 1989, Hans was well prepped for the graphic design company he established. While working with many familiar household names including Saab—the car he continued to drive until he died—his art was just another hobby along with golf and the cairns he built throughout the woods behind their home. The large windows that let so much light into his studio still oversee the natural canvas of rock piled into landscape sculpture that Hans, his neighbor’s children, and his own grandchildren have built.
However, his longing to create pieces of art that would relate to people was never far from his mind and he finally shifted to making painting a full-time career. He began with “literal scenes” as Francine calls them because he thought they were marketable. Most were peaceful boating paintings—others were landscapes of places they’d been. And while they didn’t exhibit the unique approach that eventually earned Hans awards from such places as the American Art and Print Institute, the New York Art Directors, Ridgefield Guild of Artists, as well as the Betty Barker Award for Best in Show, they still highlighted his keen sense of light, color, and calm.
“The art wasn’t speaking to him,” says his son and Ridgefield resident Josh Fischer. “He then started painting what was inside of him. It turned out that’s what people responded the most to.”
His work evolved into mixed media abstract pieces combining everything from paper strips to metallic paint that his wife says “still remind me of places we went together.” These pieces are now thought of as Hans Fischer signature works. His bold brush strokes, use of texture, light, and color—all enhanced by the hot wax (encaustic) technique he used—created paintings that beg to be touched.
“You can look at his art but will connect depending on what you bring to it,” says his daughter Jessie Grasshoff who lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two children (both who inherited their grandfather’s talent).
The Creative Space
The studio where Hans created his mixed media masterpieces became something of a piece of art in itself. Along with brushes, paints, and canvases were piles and piles of paper strips painted in metallics and a rainbow of colors. The studio was cluttered with things he collected like an old toothbrush, a discarded mop handle or countless other random items that to him presented opportunities that would make the ‘feel and touch’ aspects of his work come alive.
There is barely a wall that isn’t covered with a Hans Fischer painting in the family homes. Jessie grasps at the daily uplift from her father’s renderings, particularly the one in the dining room with its metallic gold that brightens her day and is an inspiration for the décor in her house. An artist herself, she continues struggling to complete pieces, following her dad’s instruction: “It’s so hard,” she says. Much harder is the loss of a man who wasn’t just an artist but shone in so many other ways—as a parent, a friend, a neighbor, a husband, and especially a grandfather. “To know him was to love him,” says Jessie.
Josh, an art director with a background in graphic and industrial design and a member of the Ridgefield Arts Council embraces an early work called Hudson because he loves the colors that change with the light. He is currently investigating ways to replicate his father’s works without losing the aspects that make them unique. However, he says not one original will leave the family archives any time soon. It’s an emotional task, one that gets stalled on occasion when the loss of such an incredible man overwhelms him.
As for Francine, there is not a wall in her house that doesn’t track her history with her talented husband and best friend, and while the paintings remind her of losing such a good person, they also remind her of how happy Hans was doing what he enjoyed—being with family and friends, enjoying the outdoors, and of course, painting—always painting. Those memories can never be extinguished. •